The History andMystery of the Bininger Family


The Search For TheirTombstones

In Aprilof 2001 Don Keating of Rochester, New York was invited to presenta talk on his collection of Bininger bottles to the RochesterBottle Club. He thought he would spice up the program with somehistorical information about the Bininger family. The onlyinformation I had about the history of the Biningers at that timewas an obscure book called "The Old Merchants of NewYork City" by Walter Barrett which Don had found in a usedbook store. The book, published in 1862, contains informationabout successful New York City merchants during the 1700's andearly 1800's. (All quotes in this article are from this book.)Some of the information in the book I found to be confusing andcontradictory and other information was very helpful. Not untilwe found the Bininger Tombstones in May of 2001 were we able todetermine the exact dates of the births and deaths of the threemost important Bininger men. We also found important writings ontheir graves. Ironically the dates and information on thegravestones also created the mystery that Don and I can notsolve.

The Bininger name is now knownfor its wide variety of alcoholic products, which were producedin colorful and original bottles that now stand on collector'sshelves. However, their main business was the grocery business or"Grocery Houses" as they were referred to in thelanguage of the day. Thus liquor and wines were but one of theirmany products. The Bininger men and women in this historicaloverview were endowed with perseverance and industriousness.These characteristics were probably one major reason for theirmany years of business success.

This story begins with The Reverend AbrahamBininger, the revered patriarch of the Bininger family. AbrahamBininger was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1720 to parents ofthe Moravian faith. Because of the unrelenting persecution oftheir faith, they decided to immigrate to the American Colonieswith others of their faith. At the time of the voyage Abraham wasjust a child. Their destination was Savannah, Georgia where therewere already settlements of both Moravians and Methodists. (Onthe ship with the Biningers was John Wesley, founder of theMethodist Church.) Tragically, two days before docking, Abraham'smother and father died leaving him an orphan in an unfamiliarland. There can be no doubt that another Moravian family took himinto their home. We know that he was fortunate to receive hisearly education at the Methodist Orphan School in Savannah.

As he grew to manhood he eitherchose or was chosen by Moravian Elders to be educated in thebeliefs of the Moravian Church with the intention that he shouldbecome a preacher of that faith. Also, at about that time, theMoravian settlement moved from Savannah to Nazareth,Pennsylvania. It was there that he was ordained and began topreach.

It was also at Nazareth that theReverend Bininger married. Strangely (or not so strangely inthose days) there is no mention from any source of his wife'sname, nor is her tombstone next to her husband's. No doubt sheprobably died in Nazareth and was buried there. We know forcertain that she gave birth to four boys, of which each name islisted.

There is no information as to whenThe Reverend Bininger stopped preaching and decided to take upthe task as a missionary. He first went to minister to the slaveson the Island of St. John in the West Indies. That was no smallfeat, for he was told that he would have to become a slave inorder to preach to slaves. Through his persistence, the King of Denmark heard the story, andtaken by his devotion, allowed him to continue with his ministry.When he returned from St. John "the old pastor started offas a missionary to the Indians". His last task was to help aMethodist friend start the first Methodist Church in New YorkCity. It was then that he "threw in the towel" so tospeak. He bought land in Camden Valley near Salem, New York (anarea in the northern Hudson Valley) and there built the BiningerMansion. He lived with family members there until his death in1811 at the age of 91 years. Quite the incredible man!

Isaac Bininger was the secondchild of The Reverend Abraham Bininger and was born in Nazareth,Pennsylvania in September of 1760. Isaac inherited the Biningercharacteristics but chose a life that was a direct contrast tohis father's.

It was Isaac's tombstone that gave us the factsof his participation in the Revolutionary war. Isaac was only 18or 19 years old when he volunteered in 1779 to take up arms inthe Revolutionary war. He took a short three-month furlough andthen reinlisted in 1780. While stationed at Fort Ann in New Yorkhe was taken prisoner and marched to Canada. There he remained aprisoner of war for three years until an exchange took place.Following his return, he joined his father and family at theMansion in Camden Valley.

Isaac probably completed his education afterthe war as he was referred to as "finely educated".Isaac inherited the industrious nature of his father so that oncehis education was complete he began a business of his own. Heopened a store in Camden Valley and it soon became verysuccessful. His establishment became the "largest mostextensive store between Albany and Montreal". Anotherimportant event occurred during this time period. Isaac married awoman named Elizabeth. On December 16,1800, Abram M. Bininger wasborn. He was to become more commonly known to bottle collectorsas the A. M. Bininger of A. M. Bininger & Co.

The country store in Camden Valley was"finally removed" to New York City "about1778". It is my own personal belief that Isaac named thebusiness after his son though I do not know how old each was whenthe New York City business started. When starting their businessthey soon "adopted the great modern invention ofadvertising" choosing to advertise extensively innewspapers. This type of advertising caused the business to growand flourish.

Here is where the mystery comesin. I have just stated in the paragraph above that A.M. Bininger& Co. was established in 1778. Also the labels on theBininger bottles state that the company was established in 1778.Yet Isaac's gravestone states he was born in 1760. That wouldmake him 18 years old in 1778. Abram M. Bininger's gravestonegives his birth as 1800. Do gravestones lie? Would A.M. Bininger& Co. state an untruth on their label? It seems unlikely.Could the Biningers have bought out a company that wasestablished in 1778 and kept that date? Is Mr. Barrett's bookwrong with regard to when A.M. Bininger & Co. wasestablished? We do not know the answer to this mystery but we dobelieve there is an answer out there somewhere.

Written by Melanie Zoller


Not being a history buff, I must confess that Ihave been more fascinated with the collecting of Biningerbottles, studying their colors, and dealing with the financialaspects of their purchase.

I began collecting Bininger bottles after Ipurchased a Bininger shot glass advertising a product called"Old Manor" at the York, Pennsylvania Bottle Festivalin 1988. But my interest in these bottles was peaked after Istudied a Skinner Auction Catalog, which contained a section onBininger bottles. I became attracted to their brilliant colorsand shapes; whether the shapes are plain and square, round withhandles, or figural forms. Since 1988, I now have a collection of52 Bininger bottles. I feel strongly that it is an outstandinggrouping, which, by the way, includes eight bottles from the Dr.Burton Spiller collection of which I am very proud.

The Bininger business was established in 1778in New York City and operated for over 100 years. It may be ofinterest that the greatest number of embossed Bininger bottleswere produced from 1858 to 1865. As Melanie mentioned, the Bininger business advertised heavily in newspapersand perhaps that is one reason why advertising materials such asadvertising covers (envelopes), shot glasses, corkscrews andother "go withs" are extremely rare.

Never mind that the book we had was sketchy,confusing, and contained some contradictions, it gave enoughclues so that it inspired Melanie to search for more information.The book had stated that the Biningers settled in Camden Valleynear Salem, New York and that lead us to write to the Library inSalem. They sent us some limited but important information,especially a pamphlet that described three cemetery plots in theSalem area. We were fairly sure that the Biningers were buried inone of the three cemeteries. Thus began of the search for theBininger tombstones.

After attending the Herkimer Bottle Show in Mayof 2001, it was our intention to visit the town of Salem locatedin Washington County, New York. (The town was first settled in1764) Washington County is a sparsely settled farming arealocated between the Hudson River and the borders of Vermont andMassachusetts. The town of Salem is not far from Saratoga, NewYork.

After spending the night in Amsterdam, New Yorkwe headed for Salem. Once we arrived we stopped for lunch and ofcourse asked the waitress for directions to the three cemeteriessurrounding the Salem area.

She suggested we talk to a grocer in the nearbytown of Shushan who, she said, could direct us to some of theroads the cemeteries would be located on. We found theRevolutionary War Cemetery just outside of Salem. This cemeteryhad plus or minus 1,032 headstones and included in that numberabout 200 Revolutionary war soldiers. However, a search of theheadstones showed no Bininger family members buried there.

It was off to the grocer in Shushan fordirections to the two remaining cemeteries. He was veryknowledgeable and was able to give us directions to both. Againwe were off and now to the Eagleville Bininger Cemetery. SuddenlyI stopped the car, for there it finally was-BINNINGER ROAD! (Notethe extra "N" on the road sign.) We drove on this dirtroad one and a half miles into a wooded area and located thecemetery. It had 150 headstones but ironically no Bininger familymembers were found.

By now I am getting a little more than anxiousas we approach the Camden Valley Road where the third and lastcemetery is located. This would be the Moravian Cemetery. As wepull up to the cemetery, we finally found what we have beensearching for. Directly in front of us stood the very impressiveheadstone of Abram M Bininger. The grave marker and cross were solarge it could be easily seen from the road.

We finally had the proof that these people didexist. Although there were 225 headstones in the cemetery, only11 belonged to the Bininger family members. However, importantlythree of those included the old Reverend Abraham Bininger, IsaacBininger and his wife Elizabeth, and of course, Abram M Bininger.The last three stood in a single row, Abram and his father andmother. On A.M. Bininger's grave were the words " and to beburied by the grave of my father and mother".

After two hours of photos, writing down theinscriptions on the Bininger headstones, and doing some exploringit was back to the grocer in Shushon to thank him for hisdirections and to buy refreshments for Melanie and myself. Sincemy introduction to bottle collecting in April of 1971, I neverhad the experience of finding and seeing the grave sites ofPatent Medicine Makers or wine or liquor merchants. Just as somebottles are unique I can only describe this particular afternoonas unique.

Ironically on this trip we each bought aSaratoga mineral water bottle but NO Bininger bottle. We had somereason to believe other members of the Bininger family may havebeen buried in Cambridge, New York. We explored the two largecemeteries there in August but found no Bininger family members.Most importantly, however, we were able to find the graves ofIsaac and Abram Bininger who made the A.M. Bininger & Co.possible.

Written by Don Keating

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